Was George Meade the best man to command the Army of the Potomac?

Florida Rebel

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Hard to understand how Pemberton, a true Yankee from Philly, could have sided with the South and been the one to lose Vicksburg for the South. I know it's "off topic" because we are supposed to focus on Meade but how in the heck did Jeff Davis give Pemberton a major command like that?
 

Henry Hunt

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Hard to understand how Pemberton, a true Yankee from Philly, could have sided with the South and been the one to lose Vicksburg for the South. I know it's "off topic" because we are supposed to focus on Meade but how in the heck did Jeff Davis give Pemberton a major command like that?

I believe the reason he went over to the Confederacy was his Virginian wife. I suppose Jefferson Davis chose to trust him because he was a Democrat and up to that point a competent officer. Imagine If other Democrats like Meade, McClellan, Hancock, Reynolds, Warren married a southern woman and offered their services, would Davis really have refused them? My guess is he would have welcomed them with open arms and given them lucrative commands.
 
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rpkennedy

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Smart man, John Reynolds, to turn down the job and have to constantly hear from Lincoln, Stanton aand Halleck. Although in turning down the job it meant he remained in the field, not behind the lines.

The military has to answer to the civilian authority. There was no way that Lincoln was going to give Reynolds (or anyone for that matter) the independence that they sought.

As for Meade, he was fortunate at Gettysburg - very fortunate. All he had to do was "stay on "defense" and do his best to deflect Lee and what we now know as too many disjointed and uncoordinated attacks. But for anyone to say Meade was the equal or even better than Lee, REALLY?

Lee was exceedingly fortunate that he faced uncoordinated attacks at Antietam otherwise his defense would have been swamped. All successful generals have to have some element of luck. That said, Meade was an excellent army commander and nearly got the better of Lee on several occasions but, due to Lee's fortune, just couldn't follow through.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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Winfield Scott Hancock was a brilliant soldier, very loyal but as a Democrat in a Republican administration, he was very much out of favor. I wonder how many readers of this site and forum would have been Republicans in that era?

I wouldn't say that he was out of favor but was rather the most junior corps commander in the Army of the Potomac and was never considered for command. Reynolds was sounded out and when he refused, he advocated for Meade. Slocum and Sedgwick also informed the administration that they would set aside their seniority and also pushed Meade as the successor for Hooker. Meade was probably the most highly thought of corps commander and was the only real choice that everybody could get behind, including the administration.

Ryan
 

Florida Rebel

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I think Meade did as well as he could under intolerable conditions. Imagine having Lincoln and Stanton breathing down your neck 24/7 and even worse, having Grant managing the war from YOUR own headquarters? And for anyone who LOVES Grant, how much would you love him if YOU were a soldier in his army or worse, a parent of a soldier? Yeah, he won but look how he did it.
 

James N.

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Warren might be an interesting choice as I recall he was briefly considered as a replacement for Meade. Main issue though is he wouldn't have gotten along with Grant. It would need to be a what if scenario where Grant never comes East and Warren leads the AoP in 1864. In my opinion Warren he would have been adverse to bashing his way south to Richmond so maybe he would have attempted a neo Peninsula Campaign?
You need to remember that that route was basically off limits thanks to the Administration and the fixation about the safety of Washington, the main reason Grant didn't try it in '64. Like it or not, Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel I Believe.
 

WJC

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All of the U. S. commanders were hamstrung by the insistence that their first priority was to protect Washington. Meade was (and unfortunately, still is) criticized for not capturing Lee's retreating army following Gettysburg. But when one reads the orders he was given by Halleck, his actions are perfectly understandable. Anyone who has ever been in a position of responsibility and been given conflicting orders can appreciate how well Meade performed.
 

WJC

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Warren might be an interesting choice as I recall he was briefly considered as a replacement for Meade.
I have a great deal of respect for Warren. He definitely got a raw deal from Grant after the Battle of Five Forks. Certainly, he was difficult to lead and quick to criticize others while not recognizing his own mistakes. Still, he deserved better.
But he was not better suited than Meade to command the AoP.
 

O' Be Joyful

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James N.

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I have a great deal of respect for Warren. He definitely got a raw deal from Grant after the Battle of Five Forks. Certainly, he was difficult to lead and quick to criticize others while not recognizing his own mistakes. Still, he deserved better.
But he was not better suited than Meade to command the AoP.
I'm currently rereading Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton for the first time in fifty years (!) and was very surprised to read that Grant was so highly impressed by Warren when he arrived in Washington that he considered him the best man to replace Meade if ever necessary. Unfortunately, that feeling seems to have quickly evaporated once the army was engaged in the Wilderness, with Grant deciding that early that Warren was too slow, questioned orders, and was a perfectionist in the mold of McClellan who had to have everything just so before even thinking of getting underway.
 

rpkennedy

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I'm currently rereading Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton for the first time in fifty years (!) and was very surprised to read that Grant was so highly impressed by Warren when he arrived in Washington that he considered him the best man to replace Meade if ever necessary. Unfortunately, that feeling seems to have quickly evaporated once the army was engaged in the Wilderness, with Grant deciding that early that Warren was too slow, questioned orders, and was a perfectionist in the mold of McClellan who had to have everything just so before even thinking of getting underway.

The issue with Warren (and a few other officers during the war) is that he was unquestionably brilliant but also saw himself as smarter than many of his peers. If he didn't understand the why of an order, he questioned the order, dragged his feet, or complained about the order. It makes for an aggravating subordinate.

Ryan
 

Andy Cardinal

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I wouldn't say that he was out of favor but was rather the most junior corps commander in the Army of the Potomac and was never considered for command. Reynolds was sounded out and when he refused, he advocated for Meade. Slocum and Sedgwick also informed the administration that they would set aside their seniority and also pushed Meade as the successor for Hooker. Meade was probably the most highly thought of corps commander and was the only real choice that everybody could get behind, including the administration.

Ryan
Meade got the job for two reasons I believe--

First, he hadn't explicitly said he wouldn't do it (as Reynolds apparently had).

Second, every officer approached, officially or unofficially, about it endorsed Meade. He had made the only really successful attack at Fredericksburg, and had been aggressive during the Chancellorsville Campaign. In particular, during Hooker's Council of War, Meade was the most forceful in favor of an attack.

Meade studiously stayed out of the infighting that developed after Chancellorsville. The two most prominent were Couch, who refused to serve any,longer under Hooker, and Slocum, who actively sought to undermine Hooker and have him relieved.
 

rpkennedy

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Meade got the job for two reasons I believe--

First, he hadn't explicitly said he wouldn't do it (as Reynolds apparently had).

Second, every officer approached, officially or unofficially, about it endorsed Meade. He had made the only really successful attack at Fredericksburg, and had been aggressive during the Chancellorsville Campaign. In particular, during Hooker's Council of War, Meade was the most forceful in favor of an attack.

Meade studiously stayed out of the infighting that developed after Chancellorsville. The two most prominent were Couch, who refused to serve any,longer under Hooker, and Slocum, who actively sought to undermine Hooker and have him relieved.

Agreed. Everyone who was asked basically said, "I don't want it. Meade should get the command."

Ryan
 

WJC

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It is perhaps to Meade's credit that despite his reputation for temper, he was seemingly the universal choice of his peers in the AoP for command.
Indeed.
I wonder if too much has been made about his temper. Considering the circumstances, I think many of us might be less than diplomatic at times. And his temper outbursts seem to have been short-lived.



 
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I am new to the forum, but I have a question about Meade. As I toured Gettysburg and have done some other reading, I am curious why Meade would set up his headquarters 1.5 miles behind the battle lines and why have such a large contingency of soldiers guarding him and the HQ at all times? Was that a common approach by Civil War generals? Is it something Meade did at each of battles he oversaw? My critical tendencies would ask "Was Meade a fearful man and wanted to go above and beyond to protect himself and not have to personally engage the enemy?" Or was he an arrogant and aloof man full of self importance that he would take this approach? I'm hoping for some objective, informed input on this. Thanks!
 

67th Tigers

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It's important to remember that HQ and a generals command post (CP) were not necessarily the same thing. The HQ had to have the QMG, AG etc. to do all the work that the commanding general needs done. Meade set up his HQ at the Leinster Farm, arguably too close to the line. When the bombardment of the 3rd started, the overs made the HQ untenable, and Meade had to move his CP to the 12th Corps CP on Powers Hill. Unfortunately, this movement wasn't communicated to his subordinates in a timely manner, and he lost control of the battle for a while because he'd set-up too far forward.

The provost did a lot more than guard HQ. They were doing the jobs done by Military Police, Intelligence and Signals, and there usually weren't enough of them.
 
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